Working Moms Feel Guilty All the Time Because of Their Childhoods, Says Science

 working mom guilt

Plenty of working moms express feelings of guilt. Guilt over not being there "often enough" for their children and guilt over not being able to dedicate "more time" to their careers at the same time. When women are encouraged to constantly be the "super-mom" who can handle it all, these feelings are only natural. But as it turns out, there's another, more pressing reason working moms feel so guilty. A recent study found the guilt many working moms feel is actually brought on by their own childhood experiences


Researchers at Queen Mary University of London conducted 148 interviews with 78 different male and female employees from multiple different accounting and legal firms. The interviewees were asked questions pertaining to their family dynamics, both while growing up and as adults.

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With these answers, researchers deduced that female employees who grew up in families where the mother stayed at home and the father acted as the "breadwinner" had more of a desire to "work like their fathers but want to parent like their mothers." In other words, they want to essentially have the best of both worlds, and these women tend to feel a lot of guilt about having careers outside of the home. 

"We are not blank slates when we join the workforce," said Dr. Ioana Lupu, the study's co-author. "Many of our attitudes [about work and family] are already deeply ingrained from childhood." 

Even women who grew up with working mothers aren't fully free of the guilt associated with working and raising a family at the same time. The guilt these women feel often stems from their own childhood memories of their mothers being frequently absent. 

One female study participant recounted her experiences, saying, "I remember being picked up by a child-minder, and if I was ill I'd be outsourced to whoever was available at the time. I hated it." 

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Interestingly, one of the only exceptions to "working mom guilt" was found in women whose stay-at-home mothers had worked hard to instill career aspirations in them as young girls. Said one participant, "I do remember my mother always regretting she didn't have a job outside the home and that was something that influenced me and all my sisters .... She'd encourage us to find a career where we could work. She was quite academic herself, more educated than my father, but because of the nature of families and young children, she'd had to become this stay-at-home parent."

While this study doesn't do much to actually squash the guilt some working moms feel, it does provide some pretty great insight as to where those feelings come from. Our childhoods have a much bigger impact on our feelings toward our careers than we ever really knew -- even though the "traditional" role of moms has changed dramatically since we were kids. We can't necessarily erase those feelings of guilt, but hopefully these findings can help soothe some of our fears and rewrite the script for what motherhood looks like.

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